Food processing company JBS USA Holdings, Inc. announced the temporary closure of its meatpacking plant in Green Bay. The move comes after hundreds of COVID-19 cases were linked to such facilities in the area.
Health officials traced at least 189 positive cases of the new coronavirus to JBS last week, according to the Green Bay Press Gazette.
The company's beef production facility employs more than 1,200 people and supplies food for more than 3 million people each day, according to a news release announcing the closure. It joins JBS facilities in Colorado, Minnesota and Pennsylvania that have shut down temporarily due to the virus. The company operates more than 60 meat, poultry and other facilities nationwide.
Shannon Grassl, president of JBS USA Regional Beef, said in the announcement it's been trying to maintain operations as an essential business supplying food during the pandemic.
"Given the continued spread of coronavirus in our community and among our workforce, we have decided to voluntarily close our Green Bay facility in an effort to help flatten the curve of infections in Brown County," Grassl said in a statement. "We’ve been focused on doing everything we can to keep the virus out of our facility, but we believe a temporary closure is the most aggressive action we can take to help our community collectively slow the spread of COVID-19."
The temporary shut down follows confirmation from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) that the JBS Packerland Plant is among several meatpacking facilities under investigation by the worker safety agency. All told, an OSHA spokesperson said six food production facilities are being investigated in Wisconsin.
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On Sunday, OSHA also announced new guidance from the agency and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention regarding worker safety measures to reduce the risk of exposure to coronavirus in meatpacking plants and other facilities.
"As essential workers, those in the meatpacking and processing industries need to be protected from coronavirus for their own safety and health," said Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Loren Sweatt in a statement. "OSHA’s newest guidance document outlines steps employers can take to provide a safe and healthy workplace for workers in the meatpacking and processing industries."
The guidance includes recommendations for cleaning of shared meatpacking and processing tools, screening employees, utilizing personal protective equipment and more.
A former OSHA senior policy advisor told Wisconsin Public Radio's "Central Time" that the outbreak among meatpacking facilities indicated a failure of the agency to mandate federal health recommendations from the CDC weeks ago.
Milwaukee-based Voces de la Frontera filed complaints with OSHA about JBS and American Foods. On Friday, a spokesperson for the group said the companies should take appropriate steps to protect its workers.
JBS said it's taking steps to provide the safest possible work environment for workers during the COVID-19 crisis. The company will continue to pay workers at the Green Bay plant and work with federal, state and local health officials to prevent further spread of the virus.